An All-Encompassing Look at the Workforce by Decade

From the 1950s until now


The way we work now is almost entirely different from the way the workplace looked 50 years ago. From adding women to the workforce and later on adding technology, it’s almost impossible to see similarities between the workforce of once-upon-a-time to the workforce of the 21st century. The way in which we work in America has changed drastically over the past few decades, but truthfully, we’ve seen some of the biggest changes over the past twenty years. 

The nature of work (and how we accomplish it) has changed so much in the last few years, it’s almost like it’s never been any other way. Of course, we’ve advanced society with technological innovation in a way people wouldn’t believe if you told them the tides of change were coming about 100 years ago. The workforce in the United States has changed drastically, from a male-dominated space to a diverse group of professionals and trade-workers that equally deserve the name “melting pot” that the United States does. 

Two decades ago in 2000, the dotcom bust came and went, inundating our workplace with technological advancements like we’d never seen. But are we really that different now than we were several years ago? This history of work proves that there are many tendencies of the modern-day workplace in place decades ago. 

One of the most interesting things about the history of the workforce of the United States is that the workforce, like the country, is still rather young in the grand scheme of things. For instance, women only began making up more than a fourth of the workforce in the ‘50s after World War II. There was a surge of women joining the workforce during the second Great War, which is to say that this was a very transformative time period. 

It’s almost as if there’s an essence of every era in the contemporary workplace. The ‘50s gave us the type of workplace set up a lot of adults are familiar with. During this decade, the “bullpen” style workplace was created, very much resembling factory work of decades prior. The next time you’re in the office, take a look around at the way it’s set up. Chances are, the CEO and other c-suite executives have corner offices. Right? 

While the ‘50s were essentially a transformative period for the US workforce, there have been many other developments since that have also elevated the way we work. The next decade brought a lot of the companies we’re used to seeing on top “ten” lists all over. IBM came into existence, a company that’s still alive and thriving now in the 21st century. IBM’s electric typewriter changed the speed of work, just like laptops did for desktop computers in the 2000s. 

What’s amazing is that some of the technological innovations and dreams of the ‘60s have come to fruition. We have achieved instant contact with one another through different messaging apps and our wireless cell phones. Although it might seem like a normal convenience now, this was the stuff of science-fiction dreams over 50 years ago. 

Throughout the history of work in the United States, there have been periods of job insecurity. During the ‘70s, Americans experienced this for what seems like the first time while they also experienced a strange sense of liberation considering the personal hygiene changes of the ‘70s. Longer hair was normal (and expected) on both men and women, for instance. 

It’s clear that the decades prior to the 2000s actually gave birth to the contemporary workplace through technological innovation, empowerment of diverse workplace demographics, and trial and error. The only question that’s left is: what’s next? 

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